BWW Review: ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL is an Opera That's Forgotten its Rock and Roll Roots
ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL's title alone brings a melody to mind, and if you don't hear it in the bratty voices of the kids featured on the album - then you'll probably have a different opinion on the opera than fans of Pink Floyd might. While this production leans into the emotional undertones of the source material and Roger Waters' lyrics, it trades the captivating and wild grit of classic rock for sweeping orchestral pieces and in-your-face literalism that doesn't always land.
Making its Toronto premiere two years after opening in Montreal, ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL brings Pink Floyd's music to an entirely new world - the opera. While the Productions Opéra Concept M.P. production never fully reaches the energy and tenacity of its source material, the combination of massive sets and Great Performances helps it along. Audiences first meet the central character Pink (Nathan Keoughan), the frontman of a band performing to a packed arena, as he calls a fan onstage and proceeds to spit on him - something people claim Waters did to a fan during a Montreal show - before collapsing and being carried out on a stretcher.
The following two hours show Pink as he navigates through his own personal history, not as a key player, but as an observer. He looks on as his parents cradle him as a newborn before his father is called away to fight in the war, meaning that the "daddy who flies across the ocean" is now a physical entity in the story. Audiences watch as young Pink deals with his grief-stricken, controlling Mother (soprano France Bellemare), a cruel schoolteacher (tenor Dominic Lorange), and his on-and-off again girlfriend (Caroline Bleau) in a series of vignettes, featuring an expressive Young Pink (Vittorio Campenelli or Eliott Plamondon).
The opera does a good job of setting Pink up as an anti-hero, which Keoughan carries out wonderfully. His booming, rich voice is well suited to the source material, and even with tiny sunglasses perched on his nose he's charismatic, frightening, and empathetic. Solid performances are given by each major player, but the softer tone of sopranos Bellemare and Bleau doesn't carry very well through the Meridian Centre, and the gorgeous pieces they sing are sometimes lost.
Fans of Pink Floyd will enjoy that the opera stays true to the melodies of "The Wall" for songs like 'Mother' and 'The Trial,' the latter of which is a triumphant bright spot in terms of staging and execution. Julien Bilodeau's orchestrations are always beautiful, but take a sharp departure from the grit and energy of the source material. While it can be argued that a sweeping orchestral suite is easier on the ears, it might not have hurt to have ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL lean a bit into it's rock and roll roots - especially since "The Wall" was never lacking in the theatricality department.
Suzanne Crooker's staging is effective throughout, with two massive grey walls gliding effortlessly to barricade Pink in his own mind. The reveal of prison cells built into the backs of the walls (set design by Stéphane Roy) makes for a gorgeous backdrop to set up Pink's descent into a Nazi-like dictator for 'In The Flesh'/'Run Like Hell' and the previously mentioned trial, all of which run full tilt into psychedelic madness and help the otherwise slow-moving opera take off in the second act. Pink's biggest relationships return as ravens (costumes by Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt) and the final sentence - that the wall be torn down and Pink must face his life head on - is delivered.
The fact that themes touched on in the 1979 album are still relevant today proves why Pink Floyd had such a hit with "The Wall," and explains why the decision was made to stage and score it as an opera. It's harrowing to watch a team of riot-police chase down and beat prisoners, and the decision to use women and people of colour in most of the prisoner roles is definitely not a coincidence. However, not all moments in the opera are as striking. In one scene, Pink's girlfriend attends a protest where the police beat on protesters, but it loses its effect because they're entirely in slow-motion. In fact, many scenes in the first act utilize slow-mo movement, which slows down the action and is more distracting than effective - whenever the movement grinds to a halt, the stakes are lowered because you can see what's coming a good five seconds ahead.
While the cast is incredibly talented, the stage beautifully set, and the musical beautifully scored, ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL feels like it could be more. Maybe it's the use of expected tropes in the story, or even my own allegiance to the music my dad loves and would play around the house when I was a kid - either way, there's a wall up somewhere in this production but unlike Pink's story, there was no force to tear it down and let me see what exactly I was missing.
Productions Opéra Concept M.P.'s ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL runs through November 23 at Meridian Hall, 1 Front St E, Toronto, ON
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://anotherbrickopera.com/en/
Photo credit: Yves Renaud
This article has been edited to correct the company attributed to the production.